June 5th, 2014
08:46 AM ET
9 years ago

Bergdahl backlash surprises White House

Updated 10:35 a.m. ET, 6/5/2014

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) - White House officials expected controversy when the deal was announced to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Despite the feel-good moment in the White House Rose Garden featuring President Obama and Bergdahl's beaming parents last Saturday, the five-for-one trade was sure to create an uproar, a White House official acknowledged.

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What came as a surprise to White House aides, one official says, was the barrage of harsh personal attacks aimed at Bergdahl and even his family.

But Obama stressed Thursday he has no regrets about the decision.

"I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child–and we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back," he said at the end of the G7 summit in Belgium.

Critics of the prisoner exchange have suggested the U.S. received the short end of the deal, in part, because of the questions about the still murky events that led to Bergdahl's initial capture.

"It's very interesting to me that they would be willing to release five extraordinarily dangerous Taliban members in exchange for this soldier who apparently left his post. We don't know all the details," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in an interview on CNN's "Out Front."

Some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have accused him of desertion. But Obama administration officials have cautioned against drawing any final conclusions about how Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty.

Senior Democratic leaders counter that Republicans are simply using Bergdahl as a political football to damage the President.

"Opponents of President Obama have seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war. That's what he was. Using a moment of celebration as a chance to play political games," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday.

Conservative opponents of the President have also taken aim at the former POW's father, Robert Bergdahl, noting the long beard on his face when he stood next to the President.

"The reason why I said that Robert Bergdahl looked like Muslim is that he looks like a Muslim," Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly said on his program.

Robert Bergdahl told Time magazine in 2012 that he grew the long beard and studied the Afghan language of Pashto to better understand his son's captors.

Critics of the exchange have also seized on the video released by the Taliban showing Bergdahl being handed over to U.S. forces as evidence that the POW was not in the declining health that administration officials had claimed as an urgent reason for his release.

On Wednesday, senators were given an opportunity to view the "proof of life" video that emerged last January and became the basis for the administration's concerns. A senior U.S. official said the administration is now reviewing whether that video will be made public, as some senators have suggested.

While acknowledging there are still questions to be answered about Bergdahl's capture, administration officials say the freed captive will need to recover from his ordeal before he can fully cooperate with an expected Pentagon investigation into his actions.

"I think we all owe him and his family, regardless of our feelings on this, a little bit of time, so he can get in better health, he can reunite with his family, and then we'll figure out what happened," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday. "I think we owe it to him to do that."

Filed under: Bowe Bergdahl • President Obama
soundoff (278 Responses)
  1. tom l

    But I keep being told that he is so in touch with how Americans feel. This is exactly the opposite. He clearly does not have a good feel for how Americans think.

    June 5, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  2. Michael

    Don't the Duck Dynasty men look like Muslims as well? What's wrong with being a Muslim?

    June 5, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  3. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Bergdahl backlash surprises White House

    WHAT ???

    "I" loved the photo from the PR stunt in
    The White House Rose Garden

    "I" looked so..... GOOD !!!

    "My" people "FELT" all warm and fuzzy !!!

    You don't seem to understand who WE are...

    Are SMART
    Just ask us
    WE will be more than happy to TELL you

    Know that YOU are too DUMB
    to live your life without our... "help"

    Know that desertion and collaboration;
    service with honor and distinction

    Know that 5 Taliban Generals for 1 deserter
    is a very; very... GOOD DEAL !!!

    Hope & Change
    Yes WE Can

    June 5, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  4. Gurgyl

    @Donna, that's the reason he is elected twice, I mean twice. Why not you remove your racial fangs, you will be fine. I will vote for him for third term too. Those criminals are republicans–May you and your color bias do not know. USA is mess because of republican self-centered money looting trash. Just know this. Why not GOP pass immigration reform?

    June 5, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  5. CryBabies

    @ Tampa Tim....the VAST MAJORITY of AMERICANS? Show some stats Tampy. On another front.... The reason the WH is surprised is simple...they didn't know about the situation until it was published in the papers.

    June 5, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  6. Enough is Enough

    So again the administration learned if this on the evening news. For such a brilliant man he seems to get caught flat footed a lot!

    June 5, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  7. love344

    I so agree Tim...........
    Like the vast majority of Americans, I find the Republican Party disgusting and vile.

    June 5, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "who renounced his citizenship "'

    Hahahaha...oh look...a new let's-pretend made-up faux-fact!!!! Gee...I wonder where this RWNJ parrot heard it....

    June 5, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. just asking

    " he does so against the recommendations of the military and intelligence agencies who believe these people to still be a very real threat to this country, its citizens and its military."'
    Absolutely, 100% WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. You have now proven you haven't the slightest clue what is really going on or that you're simply willing to lie through your teeth.

    why do you constantly lie on this board? leon panetta flatly refused to agree to release these five terrorists the intelligence community was excluded from the process. the military was told to suck it up and salute. are you claiming the military and intelligence communities are in agreement with the release of these top 5 war criminals and terrorists? if so then please post their statements.

    June 5, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. rs


    Obama's poll numbers should be dipping into the 30's after this fiasco. We knew the Democrat Party was the party of criminals, illegal country invaders, welfare cheats and thieves and now they can deserters to the list.
    Well, sure, because that was the GOP's goal, right? Not responsible leadership, not advice and consent, not working for the American people. Just lies, and shenanigans. The GOP doesn't care about leadership anymore- it just wants to win- and that's funny because it hates the federal government.

    June 5, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  11. tom l

    "conservatives then "Do anything to bring him home. Why doesn't Obama DO something." (cue tears)"
    I just want to focus on the intellectual dishonesty of that statement. There are obvious limits to "anything", aren't there? When they said "anything", do you think they meant that would include perhaps trading nuclear weapons for the return of Bergdahl? Of course not. So, in this case, the thought is that the price tag was too high and it came under curious circumstances. Now, surely if George Bush had gone around the law and not consulted congress this would have bothered you, and rightfully so.

    My advice to you, since you have said before that you are a young man, is to not twist things the way you are. I applaud you for your passion and interest in politics and you should be a liberal at your age. But please try to be fair and recognize that when you so passionately choose one side vs the other, you will be wrong sometimes because no side is correct 100% of the time.

    June 5, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. rs


    Obama is surprised at the backlash? Really?

    You break the law to trade 5 highly dangerous terrorists for a deserter who hates America and you don't understand why people are upset?

    Shows how disconnected Obama is with the rest of America
    IF THAT IS THE CASE (and it isn't), please explain what these GOP idiots were demanding Bergdahl's release as recently as March? Did you think this would be a case of whining if Bergdahl got released, or being able to whine if he didn't? You people are nuts!

    June 5, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  13. tom l

    "The mission to bring our missing soldiers home is one that will never end. It’s important that we make every effort to bring this captured soldier home to his family," Inhofe said in a statement in June, 2013

    So would "every effort" include giving them nuclear weapons? Of course not. There are limits to "every effort" and you know that. You just are trying to deflect the obvious inadequacies in this "deal" that President Obama made.

    June 5, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  14. rs

    Tommy G

    Let's say we are back in World War II days.... Let's say we were lucky enough to have captured the head of Hitler's intelligence agency and four other top generals, including Rommel. Do you honestly think Roosevelt would have exchanged them for a deserter before the war had ended

    Obama is not only naive, incompetent and clueless, he has now shown he is outright DANGEROUS to every single person in the military as well as every single US citizen. He exists ONLY to serve his own political interests and the interests of this country and its people be damned.
    As you like to play with history- a question:
    What happens to POWs at the end of a war? On what date THIS year does the Afghan war end?

    June 5, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  15. Sniffit

    "We knew the Democrat Party was the party of...illegal country invaders"

    Lay off the shrooms, Donna. Your hallucinogen persisting perception disorder is getting out of control.

    June 5, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  16. tom l

    In the CNN poll last night, 75% said it the swap was a bad deal. I think the gang does not recognize how the average American feels whatsoever.

    June 5, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  17. Sniffit

    " to do all this without consulting your intelligence agencies "

    And yet another made-up, untrue new faux-fact from the RWNJs. Man, Faux and Limbaugh, et al, must really be working overtime on this one.

    June 5, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  18. otlset

    It was a lousy one-sided deal, not in America's interest, and Obama got took big time (as usual in his foreign affairs dealings).

    Bergdahl wasn't worth even one of the terrorists, much less five. In fact, a more fair trade would be to chop off one of the terrorist's fingers and trade that for the deserter. Now THAT would be a fitting message to terrorist thugs worldwide!

    June 5, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  19. Richard king

    I don't think the White House is in touch with the people. Were all supposed to abide by the rules and laws , here's a guy who chose to walk away from his post leaving his gun and gear and goes to find the Taliban . His fellow soldiers state this he's a deserter. Five or six soldiers already lost there lives looking for him. And now were giving 6 Taliban for him so they can go back and wreck havoc on Afghanistan ? Good job Obama as usual your wasting your time on things that further your own agenda not your country

    June 5, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. rs


    I hate to sound unfeeling, but this person by all account walked away from his post on his own and put his fellow solders in danger to join the Taliban. plus the swap of the TOP members of a terrorist group, who are probably madder then heck they have been stored away, could very well turn around and cost up hundreds maybe thousands of lifes, and to do all this without consulting your intelligence agencies (NOT to smart Mr Presidet)
    Nice regurgitation of the FOX lies.
    1. Mr. Bergdahl hasn't been charged, tried, or convicted of anything.
    2. Republicans are notorious liars when it comes to the situations surrounding our servicemen-remember the lies about Pat Tillman?
    3.As recently as March, key Republican Senators had given their support FOR THIS VERY DEAL.
    4.These 5 former POWs are not returning to Afghanistan- they are going to be "guests" of the Qatari government until after the Afghan war ends.
    5. At the end of that war IN ANY EVENT, they would have been turned loose. That's what happens when wars end.
    6. Mr. Bergdahl is a U.S. citizen, and a soldier in our army. We leave no one behind.

    June 5, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. Tom1940

    Why? Proper "vetting" would have informed even the most "green" intern in the White House, that there would be problems with Sgt. Bergdahl's service record. It was not hidden by the Army. I do not think there is politician in the world that would have touched this situation with a 10-ft. long pole. But Pres. Obama did! Is he that out of touch with the American People as to not know what the man or woman in the street would think of this "deal"? I believe that he is banking on personal charisma, charm and wit to get him back in good graces with "the folks". When in fact, I believe they (the American Voter), have had just about enough of his "Royal, Executive Order, "I'm gonna do it my way – damned the torpedoes and full speed ahead" attitude toward running the country. Every Democrat Legislator is sweating bullets facing this election, and now "rubbing salt" into open wounds by the "tin eared" Administration psychophants supposedly "advising" the President where "shark infested" waters are – and failing miserably – may have now exhausted those trying to cover for him, and now they will look after their own skins. It's proving to be an "interesting" time in American Political History. I just hope the country can survive until this Administration is history and folks with common sense can be found to run the country.

    June 5, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  22. Gurgyl

    -pres. Obama is very smart, timely man. He DOES NOT NEED TO APOLOGIZE TO ANY ONE. I AM GLAD HE IS BACK HOME SAFELY. Shhh, we ought to swap Lindsey, Rubio next time if they open their most idiotic no good mouth. Period.

    June 5, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  23. Sniffit

    " leon panetta flatly refused to agree to release these five terrorists the intelligence community was excluded from the process"

    Mind telling us what position Panetta CURRENTLY holds in the CIA or cabinet? When you're done with that, you can promptly provide us with a list of all the new information Panetta was somehow privy to since leaving.

    June 5, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  24. sonnie3

    I would like to know if our potus can come up with any more stupid quirks that degrade and danger the American Public?

    June 5, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Sniffit

    "There are obvious limits to "anything", aren't there? "

    Guess who gets to decide them. Guess.

    June 5, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
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